Nature Geoscience 1, 864 - 869 (2008)
Published online: 23 November 2008 | doi:10.1038/ngeo362

Subject Categories: Oceanography | Climate science
The response of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to recent climate change

C. W. Böning1, A. Dispert1, M. Visbeck1, S. R. Rintoul2 & F. U. Schwarzkopf1


Observations show a significant intensification of the Southern Hemisphere westerlies, the prevailing winds between the latitudes of 30° and 60° S, over the past decades. A continuation of this intensification trend is projected by climate scenarios for the twenty-first century. The response of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the carbon sink in the Southern Ocean to changes in wind stress and surface buoyancy fluxes is under debate. Here we analyse the Argo network of profiling floats and historical oceanographic data to detect coherent hemispheric-scale warming and freshening trends that extend to depths of more than 1,000 m. The warming and freshening is partly related to changes in the properties of the water masses that make up the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which are consistent with the anthropogenic changes in heat and freshwater fluxes suggested by climate models. However, we detect no increase in the tilt of the surfaces of equal density across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, in contrast to coarse-resolution model studies. Our results imply that the transport in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and meridional overturning in the Southern Ocean are insensitive to decadal changes in wind stress.
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Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften (IFM-GEOMAR), Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany
Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research—a partnership of the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, Wealth from Oceans Flagship, and the Australian Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia

Correspondence to: C. W. Böning1 e-mail: